The Upside of Upcycling
Exploring the hot new eco-friendly building trend
photography Courtney Samway
Builders and designers are rethinking the way they finish homes. There’s a bounty of raw and neglected materials out there and shifting our views on how materials are sourced can create surprising results. Some builders and designers may even be looking in your dumpster!
Upcycling is the term, and hot new trend, for using materials in a way that is significantly different from their original purpose, but still maintains—and can even increase—their value. There’s no need to sacrifice quality when repurposing materials.
Planned obsolescence and the idea that the economy could only survive if things were not built to last, but to be replaced, is itself becoming obsolete. The challenging economic times and ever-growing awareness about environmental impacts are forcing people and companies to consider new ways of reusing materials traditionally headed for the trash heap.
This growing trend is now reaching far beyond typical goods like glass, metal and plastic. Not only is upcycling often a smart financial move, it can add beauty and value to your home. The green building trend may be in high gear but there is one source that is often overlooked—salvaged supplies!
Left: Reclaimed beams were milled into a wood-plank countertop. Tractor seats were found at a yard sale and new metal legs were created. Right: Leftover rebar was turned into a rustic railing adding depth and texture to the balcony and stairway.
Josh Glick is a custom homebuilder and partner in Ketchum-based, Bashista Construction Corporation, and he’s also my husband. Well before we met, Josh had the opportunity to acquire a 200-year-old New England barn. He jumped at the chance and quickly rounded up 25 friends and family who spent a week helping him deconstruct, tag, palletize and ship his new—yet old—barn to Idaho.
The original barn stood on a sheep farm in Putney, Vermont, where Josh lived while attending college. No longer standing on its own, it was perfect for his plan. “I’d always dreamed of resurrecting an old structure from an architectural and historical perspective,” says Josh.
Josh’s work, passion and skills are dedicated to timeless design and the dying art of true carpentry, so the “hand made” elements of the old barn fit his vision perfectly. Growing up in Vermont, he learned about carpentry at a young age. He and his best friend felled trees, hewed them by hand and built “luxury” forts. That’s where he developed a love for the possibilities hidden inside trees.
Left: Every element of the fireplace facade is reclaimed or sidecycled. The mantel is part of the 200 year-old barn. Right: The bench was a watering trough before it was upcycled.
“Working with Frank (Bashista) for so many years has taught me to continually expand my knowledge and refine my skills. Many of our clients have spent the majority of their lives working toward building their dream homes,” says Josh. “Through those experiences, I learned how to create my own dream.”
When Josh and I met, he was still looking for the perfect property to raise the barn, which had sat idle for three years. Josh spent those years collecting reusable materials—framing components, light fixtures, appliances and lumber—anything he could find from teardowns, demos and remodels that had been earmarked for the trash heap. Many of his co-workers even jokingly called him the “Dumpster Diver” because he routinely crawled into construction dumpsters to pull out materials he thought to save from the landfill.
saved discarded finish wood, degraded structural beams
and piles of seemingly useless rebar,
and turned them into works of art.
So it was no surprise to see him crawling in the dumpster to salvage usable materials that I had tossed when it was time to build our house. “It’s not about being a Dumpster Diver, it’s about reducing waste and paying attention to what can be used elsewhere,” he said.
“I realized that a lot of materials were tossed out and with a little vision and effort I could create a pile of usable material,” he says. Regardless of the green narrative, the items that were created are precise pieces of craftsmanship with a rich history. Josh rescued huge amounts of rock from burial, saved discarded finish wood, degraded structural beams and piles of seemingly useless rebar, and turned them into works of art.
An Upcycled Home
Now that I was part of Josh’s dream it was important that I didn’t take away from what he had planned. I trusted his vision completely because I’d seen what he was capable of with the homes he’d built for Bashista Construction’s clients.
Our goal was to capture the rustic elements of the original 200-year-old Vermont barn.
Out of necessity, we got creative to get the look we wanted. That’s where Josh’s talent came into play.
For example, even for an untrained eye like mine our trim work appears to be simply great style. But if you look closely, it’s easy to see that strategic imperfections are actually old nail holes where the boards were pulled off the walls of a teardown. All we did was sand, stain and nail them up.
One of our favorite parts of the house came to us by accident. We were wandering through Brown Building Supply, a building material thrift store in Spokane, Washington, and we both stopped at a stack of rusty old rebar that was the perfect length for our balusters. Not a word was spoken but there was a look of, Could we? Should we? Did we? You bet we did. It was the perfect look to complement the exposed barn beams, some of which run the full 52-foot length of the house. We weren’t so much brilliant as we were open-minded, with a vision of what we wanted to do.
The kitchen counter and bar consists of two reclaimed beams. The beams were milled into two sections that we distressed by pounding, hammering, chaining and gouging with anything that would leave a mark.
After building the main house we had several stacks of wood left from the barn. We looked to the outside and instead of a perfectly shaped pergola, we utilized the old barn beams and knee braces to create a unique structure that brings texture and character to the exterior.
There is a lot of history in this new house. Every room has a story. Even the desk where Josh drew the plans for the house is upcycled. Several years before the house came to fruition, he took what would have been someone else’s firewood and built his desk. The table legs are old fence posts from the former Felix’s Restaurant in Ketchum.
be considered waste during the manufacturing process
and using them in other areas to add value.
For every upcycled detail you see, there are just as many reclaimed elements beneath the surface. True upcycling is taking the pieces that would traditionally be considered waste during the manufacturing process and using them in other areas to add value. We saved a substantial amount of money in places that go unnoticed by using the scraps that I was going to toss as blocking in the framing process.
I think I need to coin a new term, “sidecycle.” Many of the things in our home are perfectly good materials, yet they were rejected from the original project. Thus, they don’t qualify as upcycled materials. For example, our bathrooms have beautiful top-of-the-line glass shower doors that were purchased at a major discount from a local glass company. The vanity in the main bathroom is stunning but was too short for it’s original intention and was thus rejected. We added caps to the legs, raised it up and it fits perfectly. All of our tile and most of the lighting fixtures were purchased from the Building Material Thrift store just south of Hailey.
A massive Montana moss rock fireplace constructed with a ‘dry-stack’ look is another highlight of our home. The rock had been considered waste. It has a fire screen and doors that had been sitting in the metal workers shop for five years. It was rejected from the original use because the design had changed.
As a builder, my now husband has an advantage because the level of clientele he works with affords him the luxury of planned experimentation and education. This gave us a unique perspective when building our home because we had a vision that was complimented by unique experiences. We were able to see beyond that designation of most of the materials and create a look that fit the theme of our home.
An Upcycled Remodel
Upcycling doesn’t have to start at the foundation. Tara Ooms started with a load of reclaimed material and remodeled her house in Old Hailey around what she had.
Tara is known for Tara Bella Gardens & Floral Design and her Christmas bizarre. So it was a natural transition for her to bring in repurposed items when it came to remodeling her house. “I’m always looking for different ways to break the barriers with flowers by using unconventional items in my designs,” says Tara. “It just made sense to see what I could do with the house.”
1. Salvaged windows represent tremendous savings
2. Sidecycled countertops combined with creativity can result in a high quality and a unique look.
3. Reclaimed drawer fronts and drawer pulls result in rustic elegance.
Working with her uncle Fritz Grabher of Grabher Construction to incorporate windows, doors and finish elements into her remodel, Tara created an upcycling showcase. All of the doors and windows are reclaimed and different sizes throughout the house so they had to plan everything just right. Planning is, after all, a key element when using repurposed materials.
Her master bath is the ultimate in reuse. The entire bathroom, from the bathtub and the wood cabinetry to the faucets and hardware, is on its second life. And Tara feels great about creating an eco-friendly space. “I was able to get a look and feel that I wanted at a price that made sense while making sustainable choices,” she says.
An Upcycled Resource
ITEMS' FROM MY FURNISHINGS
1. Reclaimed barnwood table with chairs is new while the china, lamps and other accessories are consigned items.
2. Custom reclaimed headboard made by Luke from My House Furnishings withnew pillows. The red table and lamp are both consignment pieces.
Consignment shops are a great way to add sustainable flair to any space. We asked Sarah Mullendore, owner of My House Furnishings in Ketchum, to help us incorporate a few items I purchased from her store into our home. Sarah has an eye for refreshing people’s environment in a way that supports reuse. She also creates new items from what most of us would consider waste.
“Instead of looking at old furniture as garbage, you should look at it as a resource to be mined,” says Sarah.
Sarah’s husband Luke, a skilled craftsman, constructs the furniture designs that she and her clients dream up from both repurposed and new materials. For example, Luke made our side tables and coffee tables, which are great examples of blending old and new materials. The tops are reclaimed barn wood while the bases are made of sleek, welded metal.
Sarah has an obsession with furniture and loves that consignment can offer an element of sustainability, affordability and fresh inventory. That’s why My House Furnishings is full of unique, rustic, transitional and contemporary furnishings that are both consignment and new. It’s the perfect mix.
Upcycling is not only for those watching their wallet. Susan Witman of Susan Witman Interior Design states that, “Clients of all income levels are more aware of waste and appreciate the ingenuity of those creating new products from unlikely materials. It also creates character.”
Susan recently designed a home in the Wood River Valley and discovered special architectural elements locally at Davies-Reid Tribal Arts. In Ketchum antique hand-carved posts were designed into the custom cabinetry package to authenticate the style of the home they were designing.
“Of course, the end result has to be best-in-class, innovative, stylish and fit within their lives. We definitely are seeing a shift in consumer attitudes, changing the way we plan today’s projects,” says Susan
The key to successful incorporation of repurposed materials is planning. Just like working on any construction project it’s important to have the whole team in place so that everyone is working toward a common goal.
In general, the upcycling movement is about thinking ahead so that we reduce our waste and our use of energy at the source. Repurposing in our homes can be seen as anticipating the waste and finding something else to do with it—to upcycle.